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Dwight Stones had gone clean. The high jump bar in the Olympic track and field trials in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum had been raised four times, from 7'1�" to 7'7", and he had cleared each height on his first try. If more than one jumper makes the same height, the one with fewer misses wins. "So it was my duty to go clean, to put pressure on the rest," Stones said. "I wanted to have the look on my face that said, 'You guys are competing for the last two spots on the team.' Don't tell me about killer instinct." It wasn't the look on his face that proved that. It was the air under his butt.
Stones had been talking to himself all day. "I said, 'Dwight, four straight clearances probably makes the team. Five straight definitely makes the team.' " Again, he was right. After his fifth, when the bar went to 7'8", a quarter inch above Tyke Peacock's American record, the only man left besides Stones was Doug Nordquist of Brea, Calif. Peacock himself had departed earlier, after missing at 7'4�".
Nordquist, 25, is, improbably, wonderfully, Dwight Stones's distant cousin. He was first moved to try the event in the eighth grade when he watched Stones jumping to the bronze medal in the 1972 Olympics. This isn't widely known because Nordquist is shy. Stones isn't. Both missed their first attempt at 7'8".
Stones had coached Nordquist a little at 7'7". When Nordquist cleared that height, raising his personal best from 7'4�", Stones stopped coaching him. "He does what I tell him to do," said Stones. "Which is dangerous."
Now Stones readied himself for his second try. "I was on the team, but I said, 'Dwight, don't let down. You haven't set the American record yet.' " It had been eight years since he had achieved his personal best of 7'7�", two Olympiads since he had promised to win in Montreal and suffered the indignity of a rain-slick approach, being forced to settle, if that's the word, for a second bronze medal. Four days later in Philadelphia he had attained the 7'7�" that had stood as the American record until Peacock broke it last summer.
Stones had prepared for this particular day, this particular jump. "I have to plan things at age 30," he said. "I jumped all of those out-of-my-body jumps back in the '70s."
All save one. Despite what he called "a poor technical jump" and despite the fact that he brushed the bar with his calf, Stones fell screaming into the pit, once again the American record holder. He has lived a full and varied 11 years since he first set the mark.
In Stones's unexpected, hard-earned victory and his obsessive Olympic drive ("I wouldn't be here if I'd won in Montreal"), he seemed the embodiment of the trials' nine-day run on the Olympic timetable. Six American records were broken, and ten times that many hearts. The enduring images were of tension, of prodigious talent almost crazed by Olympic fever. And of upsets.
The most astounding was in the women's 1,500 meters. It seemed likely that Mary Decker would get all she could handle because she would be running tired. In a laborious experiment, she was attempting the 1,500/3,000 double. The 1,500 final was her sixth race (two preliminary rounds in each, two finals) in five days. Being her usual excitable self, she had started at near world-record pace in the 3,000 final the night before and run an 8:34.91 to win by 50 yards. "I got a lecture on pace after that," she said. "But I had to simulate the Olympics, I had to get as tired as I would in Olympic qualifying to know whether I could try it in the Games."
The runner thought best able to take advantage of a vulnerable Decker was Kim Gallagher, age 20, who had won the 800 going away in 1:58.50. With 400 meters to go in the 1,500, she was poised on Decker's shoulder. But then she faded. The runner who seized the lead in the last backstretch, getting a shocked glance and then an answering burst from Decker, was Ruth Wysocki, 27, who had already made the team by finishing second in the 800. Her best 1,500 was the 4:12.85 she had run in the semifinal. Decker's U.S. record is 3:57.12, so though Wysocki continued to sprint even with Decker as they hit the last turn, there seemed little chance this was going to last.